Thanksgiving with the Dallas Cowboys is an American tradition. Nearly the entire country tunes in every year to watch the team with the stars on their helmets. But this year a man will walk into Cowboys Stadium who might steal some of the nation's attention, just like he has done in every stadium he's played in for the past 15 months.
But when people watch Robert Griffin III, they don't just watch with curiosity. They watch with their own expectations of greatness. Of course, that might be Griffin's own fault, considering that's what he has provided on a weekly basis.
For a 217-pound, 22-year-old kid, it might seem like Griffin has the weight of the world on his shoulders. He's carrying the expectations of an entire franchise, the city of Washington, 53 teammates and the marketing future of the NFL. But Griffin didn't get to where he is today by feeling the effects of pressure. In fact, he shrugs off the implications of pressure as if it's something he doesn't understand.
"I'm a confident guy," Griffin said
A native of Copperas Cove, Texas, Griffin quickly proved to be a phenomenal athlete by the time he was in high school. He emerged as not only a football star, but one of Texas' most accomplished track athletes. He broke the state records for the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles.
After being recruited by prestigious football universities across the nation, Griffin joined forces with coach Art Briles (then in his final season as head coach of Houston) with the goal of putting Baylor University on the map for college football.
Griffin made an immediate impact under Briles, earning Offensive Freshman of the Year in the Big 12 as a 17-year old true freshman.
An injury sidelined him during his sophomore season, but the next year he picked up where he left off. Griffin threw for over 3,000 yards and led Baylor to a 7-6 record and their first Bowl game since 1994.
Then 2011 came along. And Griffin became RGIII, not just to the people of Waco, Texas, but to the entire nation.
The Baylor Bears opened the season against the 15th ranked TCU Horned Frogs and earned a thrilling 50-48 victory thanks to 359 passing yards, a 77.8 percent completion rate and five touchdowns by Griffin to go along with an amazing game-winning drive, one that included a third-down catch by Griffin on a play some called his Hesiman moment.
And that was only the beginning. Griffin used 2011 as his coming out party and he had every ingredient of a star quarterback. He could throw on the run with precision, he could take off with his feet and outrun the defense, and when it came time for a postgame interview he was polite, charismatic and eloquent.
More importantly, he was able to bring the national spotlight to Baylor as they defeated teams like Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas in thrilling fashion. And, of course, it was only fitting that the Bears' played perhaps the most thrilling Bowl game of the year against the University of Washington as they won 67-56 in the Alamo Bowl.
When it was all said and done, over 4,000 yards passing, nearly 700 yards on the ground and 37 combined touchdowns earned Griffin the Heisman Trophy award over players like Andrew Luck and Trent Richardson.
All this, plus Griffin was also breaking records as a track athlete at Baylor while pursuing a Master's in communications during his Heisman-winning season. He had already graduated with a degree in political science with a 3.67 the year before.
The next step was the NFL. From just about every aspect you would want to evaluate an NFL quarterback it was hard to deny Griffin could be something special. But his ability to single-handedly introduce the nation to the University of Baylor must have caught the eyes of the Washington Redskins, who have sat at the bottom of the NFC East in recent years.
In fact, the Redskins packaged an incredible deal with the Cleveland Browns to acquire the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft, giving up their first and second pick of that draft, as well as their next two first-round picks. In other words, Griffin could not be a bust. Griffin was relatively unfazed by the fact that the Redskins basically mortgaged their future on the hopes that he would become a superstar.
"You try not to look at it that way," Griffin said. "Next year we won't have a first-round pick and that's unfortunate. But the coaches believe in you and that's why they gave up that much for you. So you're going to make it work no matter who's on the field with you. Just go out and play. I work hard every day to get better so I can do exactly what the coaches brought me here to do."
As if anyone expected differently, Griffin has delivered. He is already one of the most electrifying and popular players in the NFL and he is more than living up to his reputation. He came into a division with three very accomplished quarterbacks, but Griffin has more total touchdowns than Tony Romo, Michael Vick or Eli Manning and he has far less interceptions than any of three.
Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that the Redskins have structured their entire offense around his abilities and maximized his skills to win games. At 613 rushing yards, Griffin is already approaching his total rushing numbers from his last season at Baylor.
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett talked about how well Griffin has adjusted.
"Right from the start, it seemed like he had really good command of what they were trying to do there," Garrett said. "He's played great. He's run the ball, he's thrown the ball. He's done a great job."
Griffin even believes that his ability to make defenses pay has made coordinators afraid to blitz him.
"I think teams have sort of scaled back the blitz because if the blitz doesn't hit right I can get out and do some things with my legs."
Intangibles of leadership are also part of what Griffin brings to the table and that's why his teammates were comfortable voting him as a captain of their squad.
"As a quarterback, you're never surprised to be captain because you're put in a leadership role," Griffin said. "I think a lot of people were surprised because I am a rookie, but it just shows you how much those guys believe in me."
The expectations and trust of a locker room full of NFL veterans are supposed to be the kind of things that cause pressure for a 22-year-old. But once again, the word doesn't seem to apply to Griffin.
"I accept that challenge because I want to be the guy here for not just this year, next year, but for many years to come," Griffin said. "However long God has me playing football."
So when Griffin steps into the spotlight of the Thanksgiving game in one of the most renowned stadiums in the world, he likely won't be nervous. In fact, he might even have a feeling of comfort being back in Texas where he originally started turning heads. Griffin claims that, even as a Redskin, he has some Cowboy fans in his corner.
"I've heard some murmurs of having the ability to convert some, but for the most part, it's that they'll cheer for me, but they'll still going to be fans of their Cowboys."
Knowing Cowboy fans, if that's true then getting anyone in Cowboys' Nation to cheer for a Redskin might be his biggest accomplishment yet. But Griffin isn't looking at Thursday's game as a homecoming; he is looking at it as a must-win.
"We're there to win a football game, not to make friends," Griffin said. "We dug ourselves in a hole and we got to get out of it. I think our whole team realizes that it's about business so we're not worried about the stage or who's watching."
In a tight division race, the game is extremely important for the Cowboys as well. Dallas is trying to keep their playoff hopes alive. In their way is a man who is already writing his impressive football legacy. The Cowboys will have to avoid becoming another chapter.